Author's Note: I have edited and published this story; therefore, it is no longer available in full here at FictionPress. To all of you who have contacted me or left comments, thank you for your words of encouragement. I am leaving part one here for those of you who'd like to read an excerpt and/or keep in touch. (Sock it to Me, Santa! is available for download at Smashwords, Amazon, B&N, ARe, and OmniLit.)
SOCK IT TO ME, SANTA!
Copyright © 2012 by Madison Parker
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
For Jasper, JoJo, & Claude:
May all your sock monkey dreams come true.
The First Exchange
I don't know what made me do it — what made me say her name. I guess I panicked. Mike didn't usually bug me about girls, so it caught me off guard. When he asked me whose name I was hoping to get for the Secret Santa gift exchange, I looked around the room and weighed my options. Ben Olson caught my eye, but I didn't dare say his name. Mike didn't know I was into guys. No one did, and I planned to keep it that way until I left for college. But if I had to pick someone, I guess it would be Ben. Even though he was into sports, and I wasn't. He was also into cheerleaders, and I definitely wasn't.
"Well?" Mike said. "Who do you hope you get?"
I started to say, "No one," but it came out in a stutter.
His smile was full of mischief. "I knew it. You do like someone. Finally. Who is it?"
I leaned in closer to him. "Shh! Would you keep it down?"
"Well, who is it?"
And that's when I panicked and said her name: Amber Owens. She seemed all right, but I hoped Mike wouldn't try and play matchmaker. The last thing I needed was some girl chasing me around again. At the beginning of the school year, I made the mistake of smiling at Didi Anderson, and she developed a crazy girl crush on me. It was a nightmare. She left love notes in my locker, telling me how cute I was. According to Didi and her misplaced affections, my eyes are like blueberry pop-tarts. Not blue like a sparkling sky or a shimmering ocean, but blue like pop-tarts. I've had blueberry pop-tarts. They're not even blue. They're filled with purple goop and covered with white frosting and rainbow sprinkles. I guess love makes you say funny things. I never got the chance to find out what foods the rest of my body parts reminded her of. When she finally worked up the nerve to ask her friend to ask me to ask her out, I politely said I wasn't interested. The fan mail stopped abruptly.
I hoped nothing like that would happen with Amber.
I leaned in closer to Mike. "And I never said I liked her. Just, if I had to pick someone in this room—"
"Relax. You look like you're about to pass out or something."
I shook my head. "I'm fine. It's just this whole Secret Santa thing. It's stupid. I mean, we're in high school, not fourth grade."
"Yeah, but you know Mrs. Keats. She lives for this kind of shit."
Homeroom sucked. My bad — advisory sucked. They changed the name last year to TAP: Teacher Advisory Period. But it sounds ridiculous to say I'm in TAP. Like I'm a dancer or something. So I just call it advisory. Whatever they call it, it sucked. What was the point? It wasn't like we learned anything during those weekly twenty-five minute sessions. And Mrs. Keats, our advisor, was hell bent on making us all become friends. Her "getting-to-know-you" activities were the worst.
Last week she stood in front of our class and held out a roll of toilet paper. She made us each come up and tear off the amount we'd "normally use". Like I'd want to share that information. I kinda have a thing about cleanliness. Let's just say, I typically use a lot. After seeing how much toilet paper everyone else took, I'd say I use a shit ton. But I restrained myself, taking what seemed to be a socially acceptable amount. I didn't want to draw unnecessary attention to my bathroom routine. It wasn't until we'd all returned to our seats that Mrs. Keats told us for every square we'd taken, we had to tell the class one thing about ourselves. Lame. I should have known it was some kind of trick.
Sometimes I wish I had the nerve to be like Kevin Parker with his fuck-you attitude. After Mrs. Keats had explained what we had to do, he got up, blew his nose into his wad of toilet paper, and then dumped it in the recycle bin (right under the sign that listed tissue as non-recyclable). Kevin didn't give a shit about anything. Teachers mostly let him be, as long as he wasn't causing too much trouble. I guess it wasn't worth the hassle to argue with him. They couldn't really make him participate. If he wanted to flunk out, that was his business. Still, I wondered what he would've said if he had gone along with the toilet paper game. Or any of the other stupid things Mrs. Keats made us do.
Not only were her activities embarrassing, they were also ineffective. It was December, and the only person I really knew in my advisory was Mike. And that's only because we both ran cross country. Unfortunately, I was also the only person Mike knew. That meant he always came and sat next to me in advisory. Every Friday morning I had to listen to him rant about his ex-girlfriend, Stacey. I can't say I blame her for breaking up with him. He used to talk smack about her all the time when they were dating. It kinda got on my nerves, but whenever I'd say something about it, he'd tell me I'd understand one day, when I had a girlfriend of my own.
At times I was tempted to tell him that would never happen, that I wasn't into girls like that. But Mike's not the kind of guy I'd want to confide in. I don't think it would go over well. Thankfully he didn't give me a hard time about not having a girlfriend. Most people either didn't notice or didn't care. If someone asked, I'd say I couldn't afford to date and that having a girlfriend would interfere with my gaming addiction. It seemed to work. Sure, I was called a fag or a loser from time to time, but that was just guy talk. I got called a faggot more times while playing video games online than I ever did in real life. When you're a gamer, being heckled by your opponent goes with the territory. I wasn't addicted to gaming like some people were. It was just something to do when I was bored, which was most of the time. And it was my one social outlet with other guys. I played up my love of gaming, though, to keep Mike and others off my back. When he started dating Stacey, he was almost never online anymore, so he couldn't argue with my logic.
"Hey, if I get Amber, I'll trade with you, okay?" Mike said. "I don't really care who I get as long as it's not Jamie." He shuddered.
We both glanced over at Jamie Peterson. He was sitting in a huddle with two girls, flipping through a magazine. Jamie was always hanging with girls. I doubt he had any guy friends. If there was such a thing as cooties, Jamie had them. And they were highly contagious. Any guy seen talking to Jamie — or standing too close, for that matter — might as well kiss his social life goodbye.
I'd been lurking around the Internet long enough to know Jamie was what they called an "emo twink." He didn't dye his hair black or have his face pierced, but otherwise he fit the stereotype. He wore eyeliner sometimes and painted his nails. His tight clothing hugged his small, skinny frame, and he loaded up on so many accessories, some days he actually jingled when he walked.
"I'm not buying a Christmas present for a fag," Mike said.
I inwardly cringed at his remark, but let it pass. "You mean make."
"You have to make the presents," I said. "One a week for the next three weeks. Weren't you listening? We're not supposed to spend more than $10 on supplies."
"Whatever," Mike said, waving his hand. "I'll make a trip to the grocery store and buy some candy or something."
"And you're not supposed to call it a Christmas present. It's a 'winter gift of cheer,'" I said with an over-exaggerated smile. We both laughed.
Mrs. Keats walked around the room with her "holiday jar" filled with slips of paper. Mike reached in and pulled out a name, then waited for me to do the same.
"I got Louis," he said. "Who'd you get?"
I tried to remain expressionless as I stared at the name on my slip of paper: Jamie Peterson.
I stuffed the paper in my front pocket. "It's a secret."
"Come on, who is it? Is it me?"
"Fuck off. I'm not telling."
"If it's me, I want Halo 4 for Xbox."
I laughed at him. "Idiot."
"I'd rather be a homo than an idiot."
"Fuck that. I'd rather be an idiot than a homo."
Jamie Peterson glanced over at us, and I watched his lips draw into a tight frown. Shit. He probably thought we were talking about him. Of all the names I could've drawn for the gift exchange, why did it have to be his?
I struggled to come up with a gift idea for Jamie. I eventually gave in and asked my mom for help. She managed our local craft store and ran weekly workshops there. If anyone could help, she could.
"What's he like?" she asked.
I shrugged. I didn't know. I wished I'd paid closer attention last week during that toilet paper game. I could've gained some insight into his interests. I remembered Jamie saying something about the knitting club, but Mike started snickering and making fun of him, so I didn't catch the rest of what Jamie said. Knitting club? Even I had to admit, that was pretty gay.
"Well, tell me something, Ryan. I'm working with a blank slate here. What's the first word that comes to mind when you think of him?"
"Soft." It was out of my mouth before I could reign the thought back in, and I felt the heat of embarrassment creep up my neck.
She cocked her head and gave me a puzzled look. "Soft?"
"I didn't mean soft." I bet Jamie did feel soft, though. His long, coffee colored hair looked like silk. I bet it felt like silk, too. "I meant soft-spoken."
"So he's shy?"
"I don't think he's shy. I think he just keeps to himself because people pick on him a lot."
"What?" She stopped chopping vegetables and walked over to sit next to me at the kitchen table, a look of concern on her face. "Why do people pick on him?"
I rubbed my forehead, searching for the right words. "He's…"
"He's…in the knitting club."
She bit her lip, trying to hide her amusement. "So, he's in the knitting club and he's soft."
"Soft-spoken." I was never going to live that down.
"Hmm. Sounds like a clever way to meet girls."
"I don't think he's interested in meeting girls."
"I see." Her expression had morphed from one of concern to one of pity. "And this is why kids pick on him?"
"I hope you don't take part in anything like that."
"No, of course not."
"Because I know I raised you better than that."
"I know, Mom. I wouldn't do that. I hate bullies."
"Good." She reached out and placed a hand on my shoulder. "There's nothing wrong with being gay."
It wasn't a question, but it felt like one. "I know," I said quickly.
She removed her hand, but held my gaze.
Did she suspect I was gay? We'd never talked about it before, and I wasn't ready to lay that on her now. She had enough to deal with, raising me and my little sister now that we'd lost my dad. Dakota was only five. How the heck would I explain it to her?
"Maybe you should talk to Jamie," Mom said. "Get some ideas for your gift exchange."
"That would be social suicide."
She gave me a stern look.
"Mom, he knits."
She laughed. "I happen to love knitting. It's very relaxing. So, he's a boy. What is it about knitting that requires two X chromosomes?"
"I don't know. It's just the way it is."
"Maybe the way it is isn't the way it ought to be."
"Okay, fine. He knits. BFD."
"Watch your language," she said. "Dakota's in the other room."
She smiled. "If you ever want to try it, I'd be happy to teach you."
"It has nothing to do with gender. A monkey could learn to do it." Her eyes lit up. "And speaking of monkeys, I'm hosting a workshop Wednesday evening at the store. We're making sock monkeys. Why don't you join us? You can make one for Jamie."
I shook my head in protest. "No way. I'm not making a stuffed animal. Mom, he's a boy."
"Yeah, but he's…" She waved her hand around. "Artsy." She smiled. "You can make a boy monkey. Besides, I could use an assistant. It's a full class."
"Mom, I'll be the only guy there, and you know it. It'll be humiliating. What'll all the old ladies think if I'm sitting there making a sock puppet?"
"Sock monkey. They're not puppets. And you worry too much about what other people think."
"You know, Christmas is only a few weeks away. I think Santa will be more generous to boys who help their mothers in times of need."
"That's a dirty trick, playing the Santa card," I said with a groan.
She smiled and returned to making dinner. "Just wait and see," she said. "Jamie will love it."
Monkey madness. That's the only way I know to describe what transpired Wednesday evening. I understood why my mom dragged me along. I was the one who lugged all the supplies from her SUV to the back room of the craft store where she set up for her class, and afterwards, I was the one who lugged them all back. That part was fine. I didn't mind helping her set out the sewing machines either. It wasn't until the room filled with middle-aged women that things started to get crazy.
They swarmed around me, eager to introduce themselves to the "nice young man" who'd infiltrated their craft circle. My mom beamed as she explained that I was her "little helper" that night.
"You have nothing to worry about," she said to the group. "If my son can do this, anyone can."
Sometimes she had too much faith in me.
My first mistake was choosing black socks. My mom tried to warn me, but I didn't listen. She'd brought a variety of socks, some with stripes and stars and hearts, but I figured those would be too girly. I went with the plain black ones. I soon found I couldn't see any of the marks I'd drawn on the fabric and was sewing blind. After butchering one of the monkey's legs, a "nice old lady" took pity on me and took over on the sewing machine.
"Let me help you, Ryan, before you sew your fingers together," she said, causing the other women to giggle.
I smiled politely and surrendered to my role as the evening's entertainment.
Once we were done at the sewing machines, we returned to the tables to stuff the various body parts and sew them in place by hand. The ladies on both sides of me got a kick out of teaching me how to sew. At least they were having a good time. I, on the other hand, swore under my breath each time I pricked my finger with the needle. I was pretty sure my blood had found its way onto the monkey in several spots, but it was hard to see on the black fabric.
Before we closed up the crotch hole, my mom passed out pieces of red felt. "Now I want you to cut out a heart shape, like so," she said as she demonstrated. "Then take the heart and insert it through the hole so that it lays inside the monkey's chest. No one else will know it's there, but the monkey will appreciate it."
I rolled my eyes. Even I was tempted to say, "This is so gay." There was no way I was stuffing a heart inside my monkey. Especially not one designated for Jamie Peterson.
"You too, Ryan," my mom said. "It's a long-standing sock monkey tradition. If you don't give your monkey a heart, he could turn into a hoobajoob."
The ladies giggled.
"Hoobajoob?" I felt like the only clueless one in the room.
"The hoobajoob is like the boogie man of the sock monkey world," my mom said as she scrunched her shoulders and wiggled her fingers. "He preys on the insecurities of the weak. All sock monkeys fear the hoobajoob."
"Mom, please stop saying that word," I deadpanned.
She laughed, and the other women joined in. I cut out a heart in order to appease them, but I slipped it into my pocket rather than stuffing it inside the monkey. Hoobajoob be damned; that was asking too much.
I tried my best, but my monkey came out lumpy. His ears weren't even, and his mouth was crooked. Most of the ladies chose black button eyes, but my monkey was black, so I had to choose a different color. My mom didn't have much of a selection, so I ended up using big red buttons. I figured black and red would look badass.
I was wrong. The monkey looked demonic.
One of the elderly women peered over at me and said, "Well, isn't that frightful?"
My mom flashed me a sympathetic smile.
I wanted to throw the damn thing in the trashcan. I'd spent nearly two hours on it, and it looked like hell.
"Thanks for coming, Ryan," Mom said on the ride home.
I crossed my arms and sulked like a five-year-old. "It was a disaster."
She laughed. "I should bring you to all my workshops. After seeing your hoobajoob, everyone loved the way their own monkeys turned out."
I scowled at her. "What about Jamie? I can't give him that thing, and I'm supposed to drop the gift off to Mrs. Keats by tomorrow."
"It's not that bad. I was only teasing."
"Mom, it looks like a voodoo doll. Complete with blood sacrifice. It'll probably scare the crap out of him."
She smiled in amusement. "You'll figure something out."
"Can I give him the one you made?"
"It's not done. I was too busy helping the other women with their finishing touches. Besides, that wouldn't be right. It's supposed to come from you."
I grumbled something about no one knowing the difference, but she'd made up her mind. I was screwed. I reached into my pocket for a stick of gum, but my fingers found the small felt heart instead.
I couldn't do it. I couldn't give Jamie the hoobajoob. I knew if he opened it in class, everyone would laugh, and my embarrassment would give me away. Mike would immediately figure out that I was the one who'd made it. Then he'd want to know why I'd gone to all the trouble in the first place. Hell, I wanted to know that myself.
I tossed and turned that night, trying to come up with an alternative solution. At 5 a.m., I threw the covers back and cursed as I dragged myself out of bed. I rummaged through my closet, determined to find a solution buried among all my junk. In my hour of desperation, I grabbed what I thought would be an acceptable gift, wrapped it, and shoved it in a plastic grocery bag.
I walked by Mrs. Keats' room three different times that day before I finally worked up the courage to drop off the gift. I was tempted to return after last period and snatch it back out of the pile, but I didn't have the nerve to do that either. My fate was sealed.
"It's just a stupid gift exchange," I mumbled to myself. Why was I getting so worked up about it? Even if Jamie hated the gift, he wouldn't know it was from me.
I had trouble sleeping again that night. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, tangled in an uncomfortable mass of sweat-soaked sheets. I didn't have nightmares often, but when I did, they always left me feeling shaky and unsettled. I realized I'd been dreaming of the hoobajoob. I couldn't remember much of the dream other than the feeling of being paralyzed by a pair of glowing red eyes. I turned and looked for the offending monkey who was hiding in the shadows where I'd haphazardly tossed him on the floor.
"Fucking hell," I said as I felt for him in the dark and then shoved him in my bottom dresser drawer. Only then did I allow myself to go back to sleep.
I felt better by the time I walked into advisory that morning. I'd convinced myself that my gift didn't matter. Jamie Peterson was nothing to me, and I was nothing to him. If he liked it, great. If not, so what?
Mike came in and sat by me as usual. "Did you see what Stacey posted on Facebook last night?" he said.
"That bitch called me a woman hater and said I should try banging dudes instead."
I tried unsuccessfully to suppress a smile.
"That shit ain't funny, man."
"It's kinda funny."
"Whatever. She's a skank. So, did you get me Halo 4?"
"You'll have to wait and see."
Mrs. Keats pulled all of the exchange gifts out of the shopping bags and piled them on her desk. She made a big deal of picking each one up and admiring it before calling out the recipient's name.
When Mike got his gift, he tore into it immediately. It was a tin filled with chocolate chip cookies. "Dude, now I know you didn't pick me. Unless you got your mom to make these."
When Amber opened her gift, she let out a loud, piercing girly-shriek. "Oh, my God! I love it!"
All eyes turned to see what she was so happy about. Someone had made her a scarf out of shimmering blue and silver yarn. It looked similar to the one Jamie was wearing.
She ran over to Jamie and wrapped her arms around him. "Thank you!"
He peeled her off of him and said, "I thought it would look pretty with your eyes."
I couldn't explain the pang of jealousy that shot through my chest at the sight of Amber and Jamie hugging each other.
Mike must have noticed my discomfort. "Sorry, dude. No way you can compete with that. Even if he is queer. You shoulda made your move on her earlier."
"How did he make that scarf so fast?"
"Dude, he's got fairy fingers."
Amber wrapped the scarf around her neck and pranced back to her seat.
"So I guess you didn't get Amber's name," Mike said.
I shrugged, trying my best to seem disinterested.
When Mrs. Keats called out Jamie's name, my heart began to race. I reminded myself that no one knew I'd picked Jamie, and that if I played it cool, no one would.
Jamie took the gift and returned to his seat.
"Who do you think it's from?" said one of the girls sitting next to him.
I had to strain to hear his response. He really was soft-spoken.
"Probably a guy, based on the way it's wrapped," he said. He made a cursory glance around the room, and I immediately broke eye contact when our eyes met.
"Open it!" Kimberly said, nudging Jamie's arm.
I held my breath as Jamie carefully untaped the paper and opened the box.
My heart sank as his smile fell and his brows furrowed in confusion.
Mike snickered. "Classic," he said. "Someone gave Jamie a tie."
It wasn't just any old tie. It had belonged to my dad. Briefly. He'd received it as a gift four years ago, the last Christmas we were together. When he opened it, we all laughed because it was so tacky: red and mint green polka dots on a white background.
"Shame it'll never get worn," my dad said. "Maybe I'll donate it to Goodwill. Otherwise it'll just sit in the back of my closet. I'd hate to see it go to waste."
"It's not that bad," my mom said, trying to keep a straight face. "You could wear it. For the right occasion."
"No, no, no." He chuckled. "It would take someone far prettier than me to pull that thing off."
My dad never did get a chance to donate the tie to charity. He had a heart attack a month later. And so it ended up in the back of my closet.
Jamie pulled the silky tie out of the box and inspected it.
"Not cool," his friend said. "It's suppose to be a handmade gift. You got shafted."
Mike snorted and said a little too loudly, "I bet he gets shafted every day."
Jamie glanced in our direction, and I quickly looked down. Why did Mike have to be such an ass?
"It's okay," Jamie said to his friend. "It's the thought that counts."
She shook her head. "Yeah, but how much thought went into that ugly thing?"
"Hey Jamie," Mike said in a taunting manner. "I think someone's trying to send you a message. You need to man up."
Jamie glared at Mike for a split second, then turned his gaze on me. I felt the panic I'd experienced during the nightmare I'd had the night before. What the fuck? Did Jamie know it was me? How could he possibly know? No, I was just being paranoid.
"Shut up, Mike," the girl said. "Like you'd know anything about being a man."
"That's enough, Kimberly. You too, Mike," Mrs. Keats said. "I hope you all enjoyed your gifts."
Mike looked at my empty desk. "Where's yours?"
I shrugged, not wanting to draw attention to myself.
"Hey, Mrs. Keats," Mike said. "Ryan didn't get a gift."
"Oh, dear," she said, looking around her desk. "Did someone bring a gift for Ryan?"
No one responded.
"I'm sorry, Ryan. Your partner must have forgotten." Mrs. Keats gave a disapproving look in Kevin's direction and reminded the class that we all had to participate and that the gifts needed to be handmade. I felt the heat rise to my cheeks, knowing that last statement was directed towards me.
"Dude, that sucks," Mike said.
I shrugged again, resigned to the fact that I didn't deserve a gift. It figured I would be paired with Kevin. Karma was a bitch.
I guess that's why I was so shocked to find an envelope taped to my locker at the end of the day. Inside I found a note decorated with little candy canes and gingerbread men:
Sorry you didn't get this sooner.
Tucked inside the note was an origami figure that I instantly recognized. It was Yoda wearing his Jedi robes. A message was inscribed along the length of his lightsaber: Fear is the path to the dark side.
I looked around to see if anyone was watching me, but no one seemed to be paying attention. Had Kevin done this? Highly unlikely. No amount of lecturing from Mrs. Keats would move him to perform an act of kindness. But if he wasn't my partner, then who was? I'd talked about my love of Star Wars during that stupid toilet paper game. I supposed it could be anyone except Mike or Jamie. I already knew whose names they'd picked.
And what was that business about fear and the dark side? I like a good Yoda quote as much as the next guy, but that was hitting a little too close to home. Still, it was a pretty cool gift. Much better than a tie. I'd do better next time.